One of my favorite spots in all of Charleston  and a comparatively recent acquisition of the Historic Charleston Foundation, the poignant Aiken-Rhett House (48 Elizabeth St., 843/723-1159, www.historiccharleston.org , Mon.–Sat. 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Sun 2–5 p.m., last tour 4:15 p.m., $10 adults, $5 children) shows another side of that organization’s mission.
Whereas the Historic Charleston–run Nathaniel Russell House  seeks to recreate a specific point in time, work at the Aiken-Rhett House emphasizes conservation and research.
Built in 1818 and expanded by South Carolina Governor William Aiken Jr., after whom we know the house today, parts of this huge, rambling, almost Dickensian house remained sealed from 1918 until 1975 when the family relinquished the property to the Charleston Museum , providing historians with a unique opportunity to study original documents from that period.
As you walk the halls, staircases, and rooms—seeing the remains of original wallpaper and the various fixtures added through the years—you can really feel the impact of the people who lived within these walls and get a great sense of the full sweep of Charleston history.
While the docents are very friendly and helpful, the main way to enjoy the Aiken-Rhett House is by way of a self-guided mp3 player audio tour—unique in Charleston. While you might think this isolates you from the others in your party, it’s actually part of the fun—you can synchronize your players and move as a unit if you’d like.